Monthly Archives: February 2009

Popularity Contest

This weekend many of us will devote ourselves to a trade association’s annual awards ceremony that, over the years, has grown into the enormous spectacle known as ‘The Oscars’.

I love movies as much as anyone (heck, I was a film student in college), but I am always surprised at our collective desire to participate in the Academy Awards. To my jaded eye, the whole thing is a big budget version of ‘salesman of the year’.

You see, back in my corporate days (after I realized that the filmmaker thing was not working out, but before I decided to chuck it all in and sell wine for a living) I was the guy behind the curtain pressing buttons and flipping switches for innumerable awards ceremonies. It didn’t matter who was getting awarded. Realtors, software developers and athletic footwear marketers all got the same thrill out of a bit of recognition and popularity backed up by fog machines, wiggly lights and big screen video images of themselves all choreographed to (almost invariably) Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best‘ blasting from an oversized sound system.

Now we find ourselves in the era of the ‘social network’ where popularity and celebrity have moved into a whole new sphere.

On the internet these days everyone has the same questions:

“Will you ‘follow’ me?”

“Will you ‘friend’ me?”

“Will you ‘link’ to me?”

The personal is now public and the ability to attract a crowd, an audience, a fan base has become a goal for many of us as we go about our daily lives.  Internet sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Myspace have created opportunities for sophisticated self promotion that were previously only available to bona fide celebrities (movie stars, musicians, politicians and so forth) who accept, grudgingly at times,  that public exposure is a part of their job. Thanks to the internet we can now all look forward to not just 15 minutes of fame but a whole lifetime in the spotlight, if we wish.

All this seeking of approval got me thinking about the relative popularity of wines from The Spanish Table (yes, I can turn anything into a wine question). Looking back over the last year or so I can definitely point to numerous wines that have met with great popular success. Few of these wines were supported by high scores or glowing reviews in the wine press but nonetheless, with a little encouragement on our part, these wines have found their way into your shopping basket and onto your table over and over again. So today I offer you a ‘greatest hits’ selection (by no means complete) of some customer favorites here in Berkeley.

Obra Roble 2006 This lightly oaked Tempranillo from DO Ribera del Duero sells out regularly here.  Darkly tinted and abundant with earthy aroma and ripe berry fruit character, this wine from Bodegas J.C. Conde, known for their much more expensive ‘Neo’, is a well priced expression of typical Spanish style from this well loved region. $10.99

Peñafiel Joven 2004 This really is a wine that people buy by the box. Our most popular ‘house wine’ is an unoaked Tempranillo from DO Ribera del Duero. The years have been kind to this wine. The juicy, assertive flavor has softened with age, creating a smooth wine with gentle fruit character (more mulberry than blackberry) and dusty minerality. $6.99

D’Abbatis Blanc de Blanc 2005 This bone dry vintage sparkler, made from 100% Parellada (one of the traditional Cava grapes) is toasty and crisp with fine bubbles and yeasty aroma. A hint of grapefruit and green apple add complexity and balance to this sparkling wine that always sells out quickly. $17.99

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado I would be remiss if I did not mention this well loved and darkly tinted bubbly wine even though I just put it in the newsletter (again) last week. This berry scented yet still dry and refreshing Cava not only looks great in the glass but also offers up classic Cava aroma and flavor at a very reasonable price. $14.99

Fefiñanes Albariño 2007 America has recently realized that Spain makes excellent white wines. The grape responsible for this awakening is Albariño and in DO Rías Baixas few Albariños are as well made as Fefiñanes. This is to be expected as they have been making wine in this region longer than just about everyone else. This is a finely balanced wine that blends lean minerality with tart citrus fruit character. Crisp and refreshing, this top shelf Albariño has been a great success vintage after vintage. $24.99

Dios Baco Amontillado In the Jerez region of southern Spain, a small glass of dry Sherry is  the cocktail of choice. Here in the USA Jerez wines have suffered from years of misperception (no, Sherry is not all treacle sweet), but thanks to wines like Dios Baco Amontillado that stereotype is starting to fade from view. This amber/gold colored wine is nutty and dry, with just a hint of raisiny fruit character in the background. Customers at The Spanish Table have chosen this wine year after year as a favorite choice when just a little glass of something delicious is in order. $22.99

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Filed under Fortified Wine, Red Wine, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

Grape Love

As Valentine’s Day is this Saturday it is my duty (and a pleasurable one at that) to remind you of the many excellent ways you can express your love with a well chosen bottle of wine.  From the traditional to the unusual, a unique and delicious wine can set the right tone for a romantic evening, add the perfect accent to a cozy dinner for two or even express sentiments that words fail to convey.

Am I attributing too much power to a bottle of fermented grape juice? I think not.  From my (admittedly subjective) perspective drinking wine is about an experience of aroma and flavor that is much more fulfilling and fun when shared with another person.  I see Valentine’s Day as a perfect opportunity to experience a special bottle of wine with someone you care about.

For me, I like a rosado Cava on Valentine’s Day. The rosy hue fits in with the traditional color of the day and the bubbly wine always puts me in a celebratory mood. A white wine with a bit of extra weight and fruit character also fits the season quite well. To this end I suggest an Argentine Torrontes or an Albariño from Galicia that skews more toward the ripe style and away from the dry, flinty side of the Albariño flavor profile. For reds I think something complex and spicy but not overpowering would be a good choice for a celebration of romantic love. I have a few suggestions from South America that fit this category quite nicely, though in very different ways.

Paella Class: The first paella and wine class of the year is coming up at Kitchen on Fire cooking school here in Berkeley and a few tickets are still available. The date is Monday February 23rd at 6:30 pm. The cost is $65 per person and includes hands-on instruction to create several tapas and a large paella mixta, all of which will be consumed during the class. Several paella-friendly Spanish wines will also be sampled. Kitchen on Fire is handling the signup for this fun and popular class. Go to their website for more details. 

Cavas Hill Artesanía Brut Rosado Cava Just arrived for Valentine’s Day; this bright, rose tinted wine offers up aromas of fresh strawberry and toasted bread followed up by tangy citrus and crisp green apple flavor. Big bubbles refresh the palate and entice the appetite. $11.99

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado Cava I talk about this wine a lot, but now is the perfect moment to serve this sparkling rosado. It’s dark pink and bubbly, which may be all you need for the occasion, but this is also a deliciously berry scented yet still dry and refreshing cava that not only looks great in the glass but also offers up classic cava aroma and flavor at a reasonable price. $14.99

Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel Sweet sparkling wine from D.O. Valencia. Rich Muscat grape scent, bosc pear and honeydew melon fruit character with light but persistent bubbles. A mere 7.5% alcohol makes this the perfect end-of-meal wine. $11.99

Arte Mayor Brut Nature Cava Dominio de la Vega is a boutique Cava producer in Valencia. They make several wines with increasing levels of age and dryness. This wine is the driest and most mature of the bunch. Zero dosage creates a crisp, lean wine with fine minerality and toasted bread aroma. We got this at a big discount and are selling it the same way. Normally a $50 bottle, we have a few on hand for $28.99

Dominio de La Vega Brut Reserva Cava The same folks who make Arte Mayor Cava also create this Brut Reserva version with a mere hint of residual sugar from a light dosage. The blend here is 80% Macabeo and 20% Chardonnay.   Crisp, toasty character is supplemented by a bit of textural heft and a slight note of baked spiced apple. Also at a significant discount this wine which originally sold for $39.99 is now available for much less while supplies last. $24.99

Do Ferreiro Albariño 2007 The new vintage of this plush, abundant Albariño has just arrived. Gerardo Mendez blends the fruit from various parcels of his small 15 acre estate to create this finely tuned wine. Slatey mineral aroma leads on to rich melon and white peach fruit character with a grapefruit-like citrus note adding counterpoint to this top shelf Galician wine.  $25.99

Cicchitti Torrontes 2007 This new Torrontes offers a different take on Argentina’s indigenous white grape. Normally grown in the northern province of Salta, Torrontes wines are rich and honeyed with a snappy tang of acidity in the background. Cicchitti uses all estate fruit from their property in Mendoza to produce a more mineral wine that retains a bit of typical Torrontes density. This unoaked wine is rich and detailed with notes of ripe apple, green herbs and a bit of tangerine peel all combined in the glass. $14.99

Cicchitti Blend 2007  This Argentine red combines ripe fruity Malbec with the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon and then tops it off with a dash of Merlot (interestingly they only print the word ‘Merlot’ in small type, perhaps as a South American version of the ‘Sideways’ backlash against the ‘M-word’ grape). The ‘blend’ alluded to in the name is 60% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot sourced from vineyards in the Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo sections of Mendoza. Bold and assertive, this wine is powerful yet restrained, a positive trait that I find in well made Argentine Cabs and Cab blends. $14.99

Cicchitti Malbec 2006 (375ml) The 100% Malbec wine from Bodegas Cicchitti is dark and earthy, displaying dried leaf aroma, restrained dark berry fruit character and dusty minerality. The balance on this wine is quite fine and elegant rather than the big boozy style that some Malbec wines express. This one is currently available here in the small 375ml size, just perfect for solo diners as well as gift givers. $9.99 

Azul Profundo Pinot Noir 2006 The fruit for this wine is sourced from the Bio Bio Valley, Chile’s southernmost grape growing region. This temperate region is quickly becoming one of the most highly regarded areas in Chile for wine production. This climate is well suited to growing the fickle Pinot Noir grape. Azul Profundo is a bright and fresh wine that is reminiscent of a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast of California or the Willamette valley in Oregon. Crystalline ruby color and fresh berry aroma create an intriguing first perception. Tart, pie cherry fruit character balances but never overwhelms subtle grapeskin tannins. This unoaked red is made in miniscule quantities (only 600 cases were produced) and each bottle is hand numbered. $19.99

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Filed under Argentina, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

Portugal On The Menu

Are you ready to drink more Portuguese wine?

Márcio Ferreira of Viniportugal certainly hopes so.  Viniportugal, a Portuguese wine export trade organization, was in the Bay Area last week meeting with local wine merchants and sommeliers. Márcio Ferreira hosted a lunch (at the impeccable NOPA) organized by Evan Goldstein of Full Circle Wine Solutions to taste a few wines and share some information about the grapes, growing regions and producers of Portugal.

I am happy to report that the wines were very good as is the news in general coming out of Portugal.  The Portuguese wine industry has paid close attention what has worked well in Spain over the last ten years and is applying the lessons learned from the recent success of their neighbor to the east. With recent infrastructure improvements, private investors from within Portugal as well as from other countries are building new wineries and producing an ever widening array of wines across a broad range of styles and price points. Indigenous grape varieties are being recuperated and ancient growing regions are being renovated. Portugal is embracing tradition while simultaneously recognizing the need for modern wine production technology.

In the year ahead I expect to see more Portuguese wines showing up on local restaurant wine lists. At The Spanish Table I am adding a few wines from the tasting last week (read about them below) that I think are perfect choices to help you become more familiar with a country whose wines deserve more attention. Look forward to more choices in Portuguese reds (and whites too) as the year progresses.

Locally, I just read on the internet that a Catalan tradition known as a ‘Calçotada’ is happening next Monday in Napa at Ubuntu restaurant.

‘Calçots’ are a variety of green onion (somewhere between a scallion and a leek) that are traditionally harvested at this time of years,  grilled over a wood fire and wrapped in newspaper where they steam a bit before being consumed out of hand after a dip in rich, nutty/peppery Romesco sauce and a sprinkle of sea salt. Never having attended the real deal in Catalunya, I am anxious to check this out for myself. I’ll report back if I make it up to Napa on Monday.

Speaking of Romesco sauce, you can buy one of several brands of Romesco sauce here at The Spanish Table and liven up not only grilled onions but also just about anything grilled from fish to beef. If you are feeling like making your own, here is a recipe adapted from the César Cookbook that many customers rave about.

Salsa Romesco (makes about 2 cups)

Ingredients:

1 cup blanched marcona almonds

4 dried ñora peppers

½ cup day old bread pieces

¾ cup piquillo peppers

1 clove garlic

¾ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon picante smoked paprika

¾ cups extra virgin Spanish olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Directions:

Toast the nuts in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes until light brown, then allow to cool. Rehydrate ñora peppers by simmering in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. After the peppers have cooled in the water remove them and soak up the remaining water with the day old bread.  Pulse the room temperature nuts in a food processor until coarsely ground.  Add the rehydrated ñoras, piquillo peppers, soaked bread, garlic, salt, sugar and smoked paprika to the food processor and blend to a thick paste. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil followed by the lemon juice and both vinegars. Blend to a slightly chunky puree. Serve this in a bowl alongside grilled vegetables, fish, meat or just about anything that could use a little zing. The unused portion keeps well in the fridge for a week.

Paella Class: The first paella and wine class of the year is coming up at Kitchen on Fire cooking school here in Berkeley and a few tickets are still available. The date is Monday February 23rd at 6:30 pm. The cost is $65 per person and includes hands-on instruction to create several tapas and a large paella mixta, all of which will be consumed during the class. Several paella-friendly Spanish wines will also be sampled. Kitchen on Fire is handling the signup for this fun and popular class. Go to their website for more details.

Capote Velho This non-vintage red ‘vinho de mesa‘ from Portugal really delivers on freshness and versatility. This is a full liter (1.5 regular sized bottles) of wine with gentle berry-like fruit character, bright acidity and soft grape skin tannins coupled with a moderate level of alcohol (11.5%). Like a no name house wine in a little Portuguese bar or restaurant, this red tastes great by itself and will also accompany, but not overshadow, a broad range of foods. I just retried this wine a few days ago and not only is it in perfect shape but it has gone down a buck in price since the last time I ordered it. This is an amazing bargain. $10.99 (1 liter)

Quinta de San Francisco Tinto 2005 From a little known region called DOC Óbidos located just north of Lisbon comes this red wine composed of 60 % Castelão, 20% Aragonez and 20 % Touriga Nacional. Garnet colored with a brickish tinge, this wine displays initial aromas of fresh berry and fresh portland cement. I get more mineral notes and light mulberry fruit character on the palate along with a bit of black pepper spice. Eight months of barrel age lends a gentle tannic note to the wine. One of my favorite wines from the recent Viniportugal trade tasting. $11.99

Cartuxa Évora 2004 This wine has a long history in the Alentejo region of eastern Portugal. The winery was established in 1896 on the site of an ancient Carthusian monastery. In 1957 Vasco Maria Eugenio de Almeida bought and refurbished the winery which now carries his name as part of his philanthropic efforts to improve the Alentejo region. Cartuxa is composed of a blend of of Periquita, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Moreto and Alfrocheiro grapes. The wine displays dark garnet color that fades to brick red at the rim of the glass. Loamy mushroom aroma intermingles with the scent of fresh earth. The wine mixes flavors that are savory and lean (black olive, oak, white pepper) with bold fruit flavors of black currant and plum. Firm tannins add texture and indicate that this wine will hold its character even after years in the cellar. We featured the 2003 vintage of this wine in our wine club a few years ago, priced at $25.00. Would you believe that the price has gone down a bit since then? $21.99

Altozano Blanco 2007 This fresh, food friendly Spanish white wine was the big hit of our recent Gonzalez-Byass wine dinner at César in Oakland. Made by the same folks who bring you the ever popular Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, this Castilla region blend of Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc is bright and tangy with green herb aroma and grapefruity citrus flavor. $9.99

Beronia Crianza 2005 Another wine featured and enjoyed at the recent Gonzalez-Byass wine dinner was this barrel aged Rioja from Beronia (the Rioja region winery of Gonzalez-Byass). This blend of mostly Tempranillo blended with small amounts of Garnacha and Mazuelo spends 12 months in oak (American and French) before bottling. The barrel character plays a prominent role here but never overwhelms the cranberry and cherry fruit character. The various elements in this wine are well knit, unlike some wines where the oak envelopes the wine like a woolen blanket, obscuring all other scents and flavors. This is a very “Spanish tasting” wine at a very reasonable price. $14.99

Tejada 2005 This Tempranillo/Garnacha blend was the best seller of our recent experiment in wines made from Iberian grapes grown in California. Back in 1999 Spanish natives Celia Tejada and her brother Ivo started this small family winery in Lake County. They planted part of their 80 acre property with 3.5 acres of Tempranillo and Garnacha (the grapes they remembered from home). This small estate vineyard is the source for the fruit that goes into two Tejada wines (this one and a more mature reserva). The blend here is 58% Tempranillo and 42% Garnacha. This is a dark garnet colored wine with fresh red berry fruit character, mid-weight barrel tannins and a lean, savory element that helps retain the Spanish style of the wine. $21.99

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Filed under California, Portugal, Recipes, Red Wine, Spain, White Wine